Aria Irani, 10, has a rare perspective on Asheville restaurants. Her parents, Meherwan and Molly, own the popular downtown establishments Chai Pani and MG Road. In March, they opened a second location of Chai Pani in Decatur, Ga.
While her parents work, Aria watches and learns, helping whenever she can. Chai Pani feels like her second home, she says, and that’s the way she likes it. She’s considering opening her own restaurant one day, inspired in part by the baking skills she’s learned from her grandmother, Roz Taubman, who co-owns The Blackbird.
To go with the kid-focused content in the March 20 issue, Aria talked with Xpress about growing up in the restaurant industry, kids menus and octopus.
Mountain Xpress: What have you learned from spending so much time in Chai Pani?
Aria Irani: I’ve learned to cook, and I like working when it’s busy. On the opening night of the Atlanta Chai Pani, I worked. I usually fold menus and roll silverware and greet people.
It’s kind of rare these days for someone your age to get to work. Is that nice?
AI: I like it, yeah. It’s fun for me.
Do you think it will prepare you for other jobs one day?
Yeah. I’m thinking of opening my own restaurant or bakery, so it would definitely help me. I love to bake, cookies and stuff. Roz [Taubman], my grandmother, who owns Blackbird, she’s a great baker. She’s a professional, so I learn a lot from her baking.
What recipes do you make together?
We bake a lot of cakes together, like birthday cakes and cakes for special occasions.
What are some of your favorite Indian dishes to eat?
I love dal and rice and the flatbreads, like parathas, naan and roti, which are really traditional. I love most of the food. I haven’t eaten all of it because some of it’s really spicy, but I like most of the traditional food.
Do your friends like Indian food?
All of my friends like Indian food, but they like most of the dal and rice.
Do you ever teach your friends about food?
Sometimes, but it’s fun.
What would you say to help them learn?
I have to tell them about India and why the food’s traditional or non-traditional. … It’s different food, like really different from American food. There’s a lot of spices, and most people like it once they try it. They just don’t think that they’re going to like it, and then they like it once they try it. I would probably just say, “It’s Indian food, and it’s probably going to not taste like American food, but it’s still going to taste good.”
Where do you like to go when you go out to eat?
With my parents, I usually go out to Cucina24 or Cúrate or Blackbird. With my friends, I usually go to not as fancy places. I like eating American food and Spanish food.
Do you think there’s anything about a restaurant that makes the food good for kids?
It depends on the food, but not really. Kids can like anything that they want to like. I love anchovies and octopi. I think it just depends on the kid.
What makes you curious about trying new foods?
I like the idea of trying new things, and especially with food. The first time I tried anchovies, I didn’t want to eat them, and now I love them. I think that you should try food, and then if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it.
Some adults could learn to do that, also.
If you don’t like it, at least you’ve tried it.
Is there anything that you think adults in Asheville should know about kids and food?
Sometimes grown-ups make assumptions about what kids like to eat. Not that it matters, but sometimes when I go to a restaurant, they have kids menus that are specifically for kids. I don’t usually eat off of those because I like the grown-up menu. I think some parents and grown-ups might think that kids would only eat off the kid menus or don’t like grown-up food. It’s not bad that they think that, but some kids do like grown-up food.
Did your parents do anything in particular to encourage you to try new things?
Yeah, they told me to try new things, and they made me eat food that I didn’t really want to eat, and then it turned out that I loved it.
Are you grateful that they did that?
I am. Definitely.
Is there anything else you’d like to do one day besides open a bakery? It doesn’t have to be food-related.
I either want to open a restaurant or a bakery or become a marine biologist. So, two different things. Either eating octopus or swimming with octopus.